There are particular times in Palo when the nature of one’s spirit becomes important in practical workings. I had one of those times working with my nkisi a couple of nights ago, and thought I’d share what I learned. In my own experience, the mpungo that my nature is most closely attuned to is Tongo Sekue . This was revealed, as is tradition, during my first pact with Nature and Spirit during my rayamiento. I’ve found that the principles expressed by Tongo Sekue are powerfully present in my own life and personality….a testament to the effectiveness of that particular kind of divinatory rite.
Our munanso is heavily Mayombe in understanding; our understanding of the Mpungo is that they are natural forces, expressions of Nzambi that operate as powerful natural principles, and not as “Gods”, as it were. We don’t build, for example, Ngangas that are “Tongo Sekue” any more than we would build one that is “Gravity” or “Radiation”. There is of course nothing wrong with the approach other Ramas take working the mpungo, it is just different from Mayombe understanding. When I say that my nature is closely aligned with the force that we understand and express as , I look to the lore and my nkisi and see how it is expressed in life and principle and note the alignment. For instance, it is said that Tongo Sekue is a hunter, which tells me that as a force it is involved in the principles of life and the sustaining of it. As part of the natural process that executes “judgement” (as the hunter decides whether an animal, and perhaps the people of his family, will live or die based on his own skill), Tongo Sekue chooses how the balance of nature is expressed. As a balancing and decisive force, Tongo Sekue swiftly corrects natural imbalance, and as a hunter provides the life-giving spark. In the end, the nature of the Hunter isn’t one who kills–the killing is a necessary part of the process, but isn’t the point. The Hunter provides life, and chooses who lives or dies (the animal or the people he feeds) through agency of his will. When we understand Tongo Sekue as a hunter, we have to read beyond the dead letter. Tongo Sekue isn’t literally a “hunter”; the image of the hunter is a useful symbol for understanding how that natural force is expressed. If the understanding of this force where rooted in modern Western culture, Tongo Sekue would be described less as a hunter (few of us actually hunt for our sustenance these days, and so the deep meaning of the role is lost to many) and more as a Judge, a wielder of Law and executor of balance. Just as the judge decides how law is applied and chooses who will go free, and who will die, so does Tongo Sekue operate as a natural force and principle. Like all things in existence, this great and powerful force is a living one, and can of course be propitiated and honored, and worked with. Tongo Sekue can give life, and it can take it.
What I discovered working with my nkisi is that, in order to work harmoniously with Tongo Sekue , I myself needed to be balanced. Otherwise, Tongo Sekue would do the balancing for me…..and perhaps not in a way that I wished.
After opening ceremonies and work with my nkisi, I drew up my dikenga and got to speaking with my Lucero. I’d had a dream about Tongo Sekue , and thought perhaps I was being spoken to in the ndozi about working with this force. I asked Lucero if I should begin working with the force, and got an immediate and obvious NO. Delving deeper, I asked why, and what was needed. I was shown personal turmoil. Lucero communicated that working with Tongo Sekue would bring turmoil into my life related to it’s nature. Lucero continued to speak through my divinatory oracle, and told me what was necessary. Firstly, a spiritual bath with sweet herbs with the intent of cleansing away past misdeeds and welcoming Spirit. Then, a careful survey of my own way of being. There is a way of living so that you are in harmony with a force, and I had to make a few changes in order to work with Tongo Sekue well…all related to judgement, and being carefully honest (the sort of honesty that sometimes does not spare feelings). Nothing horrible, slight adjustments in being. These small adjustments and the spiritual bath left me with the sense that my own nature was harmonious with that of Tongo Sekue , and I felt that I could work with this force with the proper authority, with licensia. Now, this is a force that I can use freely as long as my nature is harmonious with it’s nature. These adjustments in self are a sacrifice to the Spirit, similar to the menga or honey we would offer.
Having spiritual grace is a concept found in many traditions. What it comes down to primarily is harmony with the Spirit, living in such a way that Spirit can move through you freely. Our personal foibles and any character flaws can stand in the way of this free expression, and the pain of these flaws being burnt away is the price we all pay with initiation. Working with spirit doesn’t always have to be an ordeal; if we take the time to speak to Lucero and come to know how spiritual forces will be expressed in our lives Before we work with them, we can make necessary adjustments and move forward working with mpungo with authority and peace.
That all being said, there are many ways of understanding work with the mpungo, and this is certainly not the only valid way.